Poets and the People: Reflections on solidarity during wartime

Robert von Hallberg in The Boston Review:

Walt_whitmanIt is unusual for lyric poets to inquire into civic bonds, and poets have rarely been pulled to the bosom of the American polity (Whitman is the grand exception). Indeed, there is a familiar literary tradition of configuring politics—as Ezra Pound did—as a contest between reasons of state and individual autonomy. Yet in recent years the most distinguished political poems have all engaged precisely the issue of what holds citizens together in a community, and with what consequences, intended and otherwise. In particular Jorie Graham, Robert Hass, Frank Bidart, C. K. Williams, and Robert Pinsky have produced important and surprising explorations of contemporary civic solidarity.

None of my poets provides a comprehensive account of solidarity, nor are they analyzing the policies now being debated in the presidential campaign—about health care, schools, the housing market, timetables for Iraq, or fair trade. But each is alert to the ambiguities of pragmatic politics, alive to just those moments when public-policy debate cracks open and reveals an inadequately considered principle—about globalism, patriotism, democratic complicity, war on civilians, and carceral responsibility—at play in our political lives.

More here.